April 5, 2005) - The Cardinal Newman Society is a national organization to renew and strengthen the Catholic identity of Catholic colleges and universities in the U.S. We have led the national protests each year that have dramatically reduced the number of Catholic campus performances and readings of “The Vagina Monologues” from 32 in 2003 to 22 this year. (For details, see www.cardinalnewmansociety.org.)
In his address to faculty on January 23, Fr. Jenkins rightly described “The Vagina Monologues” as antithetical to the University of Notre Dame’s Catholic identity. He said:
[I]n “The Vagina Monologues” discussion of female sexuality, and in the community and culture it strives to create, there is no hint of central elements of Catholic sexual morality. The work contains graphic descriptions of homosexual, extra-marital heterosexual, and auto-erotic experiences. There is even a depiction of the seduction of a sixteen year-old girl by an adult woman. The experiences are often portrayed as leading the characters to the sort of positive embrace of the woman's body, sexuality, and self that the narrator wants to encourage. Yet these portrayals stand apart from, and indeed in opposition to, the view that human sexuality finds its proper expression in the committed relationship of marriage between a man and a woman that is open to the gift of procreation. Moreover, the repeated performance of the play and the publicity surrounding it suggest that the university endorses certain themes in the play, or at least finds them compatible with its values. (emphasis added)
In today’s statement, Fr. Jenkins simply ignores the facts. He imposes no restrictions on future performances of “The Vagina Monologues,” while still acknowledging the need for some exception to limitless campus free speech: “The only exception I can imagine would come in the case of expression that is overt and insistent in its contempt for the values and sensibilities of this University, or of any of the diverse groups that form part of our community.” Inexplicably, Jenkins now argues, “This sort of expression is not at issue in the current debate, nor do I expect it to be an issue in the future.”
Without any explanation, Fr. Jenkins has either come to a radically different perspective on “The Vagina Monologues,” or he has simply abandoned Notre Dame’s Catholic mission. “The Vagina Monologues” and its author Eve Ensler exhibit obvious contempt for the Christian values that the University of Notre Dame once fearlessly embraced, only a few decades ago. With his inauguration speech and campus addresses in January, Fr. Jenkins gave Catholics around the world false hope that Notre Dame would come to the same appreciation for its Catholic identity that has prompted leading Catholic institutions like the Catholic University of America, Marquette University, Providence College and Seton Hall University to halt performances of “The Vagina Monologues” this year. Fr. Jenkins has now given Catholics around the world reason to believe that the University of Notre Dame, “Our Lady’s University,” will remain substandard as a Catholic institution for the foreseeable future.
Where did Fr. Jenkins go wrong? We believe that his original instincts about “The Vagina Monologues” were correct and sincere, but he fell into the trap that has paralyzed so many other Catholic colleges and universities in the United States—he has insisted on defining “The Vagina Monologues” and arguably everything else that occurs at Notre Dame within the context of “academic freedom.” This is a play, a piece of entertainment and one-sided advocacy. It is not an academic event; it does not in itself offer substantial information or reasoned argument that would contribute to a discussion of sexual morality or violence. The academic departments sponsoring the play have little or no sincere interest in the play in relation to their coursework; instead they have sponsored the play as a way of getting around a ban on university approval for a student-sponsored production. Banning this play would in no way inhibit free discussion of the topics the play purports to address. Rather, banning the play is a means of demonstrating genuine commitment to reasoned dialogue on important issues, without the vulgarity, obscenity, disrespect for human dignity and one-sided demagoguery that prevent true academic discourse.
We conclude by citing statements made this year by two other Catholic university presidents and Notre Dame’s bishop, whom Fr. Jenkins has pointedly snubbed today. By their words, these individuals demonstrate a dedication to Catholic identity in higher education that is lacking in Fr. Jenkins’ statement today. Together with faithful alumni of Notre Dame and Catholics worldwide, we will pray that Fr. Jenkins will be filled with the Holy Spirit and have a change of heart.
I find the play crude, ugly, vulgar and unworthy of staging or performing at CUA in any manner whatsoever. I believe that CUA, its excellent Drama department, and the cause of promoting the dignity of women deserve much better than this play and can find much better expression than this play presents. In addition to the affront and offense posed to Catholic teachings and values by some aspects of the play, it has become a symbol each year of the desire of some folks to push Catholic campuses over the edge of good and decent judgment. Sooner or later, someone has got to simply say ‘enough,’ I am saying ‘enough’ and I’ll take whatever criticism is hurled my way as a badge of honor for CUA, its mission, its values and all that it represents. I took this position last year, this year and I’ll take it again next year and every year I am here.
Very Rev. David O’Connell, CM
President, Catholic University of America
Statement to CUA’s student newspaper The Tower, 1/20/06
The “Vagina Monologues” is “not appropriate for a school with our mission. ...First, far from celebrating the complexity and mystery of female sexuality, ‘The Vagina Monologues’ simplifies and demystifies it by reducing it to the vagina. …Second, the description of the play as a ‘new bible’ is an indication that its depiction of female sexuality is meant to displace the traditional Biblical view that inspires the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.” Answering critics who claim such productions on Catholic campuses are protected by academic or artistic freedom: “But artistic freedom on a Catholic campus cannot mean the complete license to perform or display any work of art regardless of its intellectual or moral content. Any institution which sanctioned works of art that undermined its deepest values would be inauthentic, irresponsible and ultimately self-destructive.”
Rev. Brian Shanley, O.P.
President of Providence College
Statement released 1/19/06
Pope John Paul II, a longtime professor in a Catholic university, explains that freedom must always be linked to the truth and the common good. The same principles apply to artistic freedom. As a university professor, the future pope presented a series of lectures on human love and sexuality in which he reflected how artistic freedom must always be linked to the whole truth about human love and sexuality. …Let us all turn to Mary, the patroness of Notre Dame and of our diocese, asking her to help Father Jenkins and her university through this difficult and historic moment, towards the light that is Jesus Christ who said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” I regret the sponsorship of this play by Notre Dame again this year, and pray it will be the last time.
Most Rev. John D’Arcy
Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend
Statement released Feb. 2006